Those of us with brothers…sisters…cousins know a bond that transcends all the little squabbles of childhood and beyond.  The love of a sibling is just one of those priceless things that we can count on in life. How we delight in watching our grandchildren (Bret and Shannon’s nieces and nephews) forge those relationships,  knowing how important they will be for the rest of their lives.

In 1975, when we found the perfect house for our “back to the earth move”, our realtor/ family friend expressed serious concern. She was certain that our children would suffer  socialization deficits by moving them so far from town.   In actuality, our children became each others best friends. They had no choice but to enjoy each others companionship. What great times they had and what great friends they became!

When Bret received the phone call that his ankle problem was CCS, he turned immediately to his brothers. Many times physically, but always emotionally, they have been right by his side. Recently, the news that the tumors were again spreading had Aaron making flight arrangements and Ryan ready to pick him up.

The three brothers, and of course Shannon, started the visit with a late night “snack” which Bret wrote about below.

With my brother Aaron coming into town late Monday night, I spent the day resting in bed saving my energy so that we could go pick him up from the airport.  At midnight on our way to the airport, we stopped to pick up Ryan.  Then when Aaron finally arrived at the airport at 12:30 we headed to the only reasonable place at such a late hour, Nick Tahoe’s, for the authentic garbage plate.  When I saw the pool of grease at the bottom of my styrofoam container, I wasn’t even remotely interested in digging too deep into my dish.  I polished off the burgers on top, and welcomed the ridicule from my brothers who worked their way through the then congealed spoonfuls of grease.  Ryan is trying to see the patient side of cardiology.  Such a great night having both brothers together again!!

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Steel Magnolia (Urban Dictionary: A southern woman who is strong and independent, yet feminine)

Posted June 14 by Jim and Betsy

In Bret’s “My Story” section, he introduced us to his, “amazing wife Shannon”. Throughout the year, it must have become clear to any reader just how accurate that description is.  Shannon truly is amazing. The smile is for real and it is always in readiness. She captivates everyone she meets with her gracious southern charm. How we all love her! And how obviously Bret loves her. Aunt Shannon has a special touch with her neices and nephews, who adore her and Uncle Bret.

As Bret’s parents, we are grateful beyond words that he has Shannon by his side. There is no one on the planet that could give him the kind of support that Shannon so eagerly provides. She never leaves his side.When Jim asked her once how she holds everything together so well despite the situation, she reminded him  that is why southern women are referred to as steel magnolias. Oh, yeah…

Her steel structure has a lot of support.  All those people who are important to her have become precious to us. She has  loving, understanding, supportive parents…sister…family. Rich and Ed, her bosses, are unbelievably considerate…as well as JLag, HP, and all Bret and Shannon’s incredible neighbors and friends. We are so grateful for all.

Bret and Shannon continue their immersion  in history and pleasure in debate. Last night, following a movie on Henry VIII, we had a great discussion about parallels between contemporary life and 14th century religion and politics.  We rarely have closure… the discussions are always to be continued…as is this blog!

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Guest Post

This entry is being posted by Betsy / Bret’s Mom. I have Bret’s permission to be a guest blogger.

This has been a particularly difficult phase of our CCS journey. After Bret’s truly remarkable adaptation to life with one leg, we all assumed and hoped that he would have a period of relative normalcy…some time to travel and enjoy life without the anchor that his leg had become. It was a supremely cruel blow when tumors surfaced within weeks. It comes as a surprise to none that he needs time to put thoughts of his situation out of reach when he is able. Blogging is just not possible right now.

I want to thank all of you for your amazing support. It continues to mean so much. Bret reads all his comments and e-mails. We all draw from the power of shared love and concern.

Currently, Bret finds comfort in relaxing in his home. The weather could not be sweeter. He and Shannon are enjoying that gentle lake breeze and summer sounds coming through their windows. He has been watching biographies…historical programs…and documentaries about our world challenges. The latest program that captured his attention is a documentary called Blind Spot. It is an eye-opener that we all recommend watching. We have wonderful thought-provoking critiques after these programs and contemplate the significant changes we could make based on what we learn.

Because of the tumors in his arm and spine, Bret is cautious about doing too much physical exertion. Even the use of his crutches could be aggravating the tumors in his arm and spine. However Bret and Shannon have enjoyed some special times that I will share if my “guest artist permit” is extended.

In the meantime, I want to stress our appreciation to all Bret’s readers for the humor, insights, prayers, love and support. For those who read but prefer not to comment, we have felt your presence.

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Regaining Strength

Wow, thank you all for all of the kind words and encouragement…it has taken me so far!  Last Wednesday, with the new tumor penetrating the bone in my spine, Dr. O’Keefe recommended a Reclast infusion to help strengthen my bones.  This is something given to osteoporosis patients so Dr. O’Keefe thought this may help slow down the damage to my spine.  I was hesitant because it would mean another IV and potentially several undesirable side effects: muscle and joint aches, nausea, chills, headache, fatigue, and fever.  However, I couldn’t go against the advice of my doctor.  Other than the minor pinching from the IV, the infusion went well.  But the next day, Thursday, I was hit head on with fatigue and severe sore joints like I’ve never experienced before.  I felt as if I woke up 50 years older.  Just the excuse I needed to stay in bed and continue my video lessons in American history.  Other than a few visits with family, I spent the rest of the week in bed trying to regain my strength.  I made several attempts to blog, but just couldn’t find the strength to type, let alone put my thoughts together.  By Sunday, I had improved, but I was still sleeping most of the day and could barely stand up from a seated position because of the pain in my knee.

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A Shorter Horizon

I’ve had several PET scans and every time the news has been some bad and some good; always new tumors but no evidence of spread beyond my right leg.  With the amputation of my leg and removal of the lymph nodes that had been described to us as a barrier to the rest of my body, I wasn’t sure what news to expect from this scan.  Dr. O’Keefe called Tuesday morning and I was anxious to get right to the results.  The cancer  is now evident in my wrist and one vertebrae of my spine.  It’s interesting because the tumor in my wrist is deep in the muscle tissue and the tumor on my spine is deep in the bone.  This makes me look at the cancer and its progression in a very different way than I had previously.  Maybe the tumor in my ankle that became swollen and grew quickly after playing kickball was not the first, un-agitated others may have just grown slower.  The key concern seems to be that if the tumor on my spine continues to grow it could eventually cause damage to my spinal cord.

Up until now, I’ve maintained some remote hope that maybe I could get ahead of this and be cured, or live this out for a while.  But treatment has changed from eradication of disease to treatment of pain and other side effects and maximizing quality of life.  Two things that now plague me are: how much time do I have, and what kind of damage do I face during that time?  Every time I write, talk to, or see someone, I feel like it could be the last.   So back to our question from the weekend — where do we go from here?  Now, just as always, it comes down to finding as much enjoyment through interactions with friends and family, new adventures, and good food as my tired and feeble body can handle.

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As we discussed with Dr. O’Keefe over the weekend, Monday afternoon we headed in to get a PET/CT Scan — a routine with which I have become really familiar.  First off is a weigh-in, and I was interested to see what weight class I would be fighting in knowing that I had lost a lot of weight over the past couple of weeks.  I hadn’t intentionally been loosing weight but had been following a healthier diet when I suddenly noticed the pounds shedding…definitely a little quicker than I would have liked.  Prior to amputation I weighed 195, shortly after 175, and now a 147 pounds.  With the tumors already visibly spreading on my stump and down a significant amount of weight, this is when I decided I would start eating whatever sounded good again.  So, Shannon volunteered to run to Amiel’s to get my favorite roast beef sub on white bread while I was getting scanned.

Meanwhile I had to choke down a cocktail of thick, white, nasty contrast.  As if the drink wasn’t disgusting enough, it comes out of a large bottle that always reminds me of elementary school paste…not something that looks like it is meant to be consumed.  Usually I get away with just a little butterfly needle that is painless, but because this was also a diagnostic CT scan I would need an IV.  I’ve become very used to needles and don’t have nearly the fear that I used to, but for some reason I just was not in the mood today to be poked and prodded.   But after a small prick, the rest was easy; an hour of rest and relaxation while the injection circulates followed by a 20 minute scan.  I was just relieved when the scan was finally over so we could get home and continue renewing my junior-high history education with the American Experience series while kicking back and enjoying my coveted Amiel’s sub.  Now it’s just waiting for the results.

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Sunday School

It was Sunday that I finally came around to posting the results of my biopsy.  From there I received a continuous stream of supportive and encouraging comments and emails that motivated me to refocus my energy.  Thank you all so much for your overwhelming support; it breaks me from my mental paralysis!  But with the cold, wet, and windy weather, I would claim one more day to stay in bed and watch American Experience.  We watched stories on both Geronimo and Franklin D. Roosevelt that would last the full day.  I’ve been addicted to these extremely well done documentaries relearning all of the history that I had either forgotten or missed the first time through.  I’ve always been interested in history, and found the perfect avenue for me to absorb it.  These documentaries have made me realize that a lot of the frustrating political trends of these times have actually gone on for centuries.   It sure has also been a good time to be alive in America.

For dinner, we took a break from our shows to run to Wegmans where we got the $6 meals; a definite bargain.  I always go for salmon with mashed potatoes and brusel sprouts and have not been disappointed yet.  Just as we finished dinner, we got a surprise visit from my cousins Katey and Mark.  We didn’t realize it, but Katey was in town for the weekend so it was great to catch her and Mark before she left to go back to New Orleans.  Two amazing people; I’m very proud of my cousins.

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